Notes on Adam Lee

A final set of book notes for the moment, this one the fourth of several books about atheism, humanism, and why people believe what they do (which last item is my central concern). Adam Lee is a blogger who writes the blog Daylight Atheism in the Atheist Channel of the vast Patheos website. In his book of the same title, Daylight Atheism, he’s not ‘angry’ like Greta Christina, but he’s frank and unapologetic; his theme is that not believing in any religion is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s time for those of us who think that way to “step out our closets and into the daylight” (p13).

The structure of his book is similar to A.C. Grayling’s The God Argument; the first half explains why religious faith is a nonstarter; the second half explores the benefits of free thought and honest engagement with the world.

Though the book’s themes are similar to those in the past couple I noted here, Lee of course offers distinct perspectives. Here’s one right away: in chapter one, he compares religion to fossil fuel. Just as our 21st century technology is still based on an 18th century economy based on fossil fuels — which are becoming a lethal threat to our climate — so do the fossilized dogmas of religion, contaminated with tribalism, hate, and fanaticism, threaten the future of human culture. Nice metaphor.

As other authors have done, Lee spells out the evil that religion brings to the world: Islam and 9/11; Christian fundamentalism intent on remaking society into their own theocratic image (and if not here, then in Nigeria, Uganda). He explores the relative ignorance of the Christian devout of their own Bible, noting the many passages in that book that describe what most modern people would call atrocities. “These stories send a moral message about a deity who’s petty, insecure, malicious, short-tempered, violent and cruel.”

Is the New Testament better? It was Jesus who introduced the idea of Hell, an eternal punishment, far worse than any punishment in the Old Testament.

And the argument from evil. Why terrible things happen, and the rationalizations the devout muster.

The second half of the book describes life without superstition; the values available to atheists not constrained by holy books. He addresses the stereotypes about what most people think about atheists.

And he describes his concept of a morality independent of religion and derived from our existence as a social species. He calls this “universal utilitarianism”, a slight variation on the utilitarian idea of seeking to produce the greatest good for the great number of people. His definition, which he then explores, is, “Always minimize both actual and potential suffering; always maximize both actual and potential happiness.” [A theme which dovetails into Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, which I’ll get to eventually.]

If I have a couple slight reservations about this book, one is that the book is self-published, and I can’t see anywhere what Lee does for a living, or what academic credentials he might have, aside from writing this book, and his blog, and being a speaker at various events. Perhaps these days this is an unfair comment in these days when, occasionally, self-published books are as good as any others.

My second reservation is that, actually, Lee’s site Daylight Atheism has better essays than any of the chapters in this book, which perhaps try to summarize too many points in too little space. Lee’s site is a wealth of resources, especially in his essays, which I suspect in toto far exceed the length of this book. And in his ongoing blog, he addresses current social issues of day, for example, recently, the misogyny of the Santa Barbara shooter a few weeks ago, and the latest discovery about the atrocities committed by the Catholic church in Ireland.

But overall, this is a fine book that covers issues of interest, especially, I would think, to any of my devout readers who don’t understand why everyone doesn’t accept the obvious truth of their faith. A nice complement to A.C. Grayling’s book.

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